Ask the Expert
The Dreaded Flu
This year’s influenza arrived
earlier than usual, resulting in widespread, even epidemic levels of influenza
throughout the country. Most experts expect the flu season will last until the
end of March or beginning of April. Reports about the epidemic have been
discussed on the news and most of us know at least one adult or child who has
been kept home ill with the infection. In the Suburban Hospital Pediatric
Emergency Center, we have seen a huge increase in volume with this recent
wave of influenza. Taking the following precautions can help
decrease your risk of contracting the illness.
|Don't sneeze at the flu!|
How do you know it is the flu?
people, influenza causes a week or more of discomfort. In children, symptoms generally include
fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough and nasal complaints such as
stuffed or runny nose. Occasionally,
kids can also have vomiting and/or diarrhea.
The main symptoms that differentiate the flu from a common cold are the
presence of fever (usually over 101 degrees) and body aches. Wash your hands, wash your hands, and wash your hands!
As reports of influenza cases
continue to escalate, many people have been asking about what they can do to
keep themselves healthy. The best
protection against the infection is getting a flu shot. At the time of this writing, this year’s
vaccine is still available and can be effective in preventing this season’s
influenza. While no vaccine can provide
100% protection against an illness, the influenza shot provides good protection
and if someone vaccinated does contract influenza, s/he may end up with a
milder case of the disease due to some partial protection of the shot. It should be emphasized that the strains of
influenza change each year and that a new vaccine is needed annually in order
to confer protection against the infection.
to getting a flu shot, parents and kids can also employ strategies to minimize
their chance of getting or spreading the flu.
In particular, hand washing should be performed regularly. The actual washing with soap should last
about 20 seconds. If your access to a
sink is limited, then alcohol based hand sanitizers also help to reduce spread
of influenza. Other techniques include: ·
Encouraging family members to cover the coughs
and sneezes (and doing so into their elbow rather than their hands)
Avoiding sharing cups, utensils etc at school
Keeping one’s hands away from his/her face
Discarding used tissues into a garbage can
Stay Away from Aspirin if Your Child Has
Even with the best preventive
practices, it is possible that a child or family member may contract the
influenza illness. If this happens, one
can generally expect a week or so of fever and discomfort. Treatment generally consists of rest, fluids
and fever reducers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Remember
that giving a child aspirin is contraindicated when they have the flu as it can
lead to a serious illness known as Reye Syndrome. In some instances, anti-viral medications may
be employed as a way of minimizing influenza symptoms and you should call your
family’s physician to ask if this is the appropriate.
While it seems that treatment for
influenza generally involves rest, fluids and fever reduction, many parents may
wonder when it would be appropriate to bring their child either to the
pediatrician or to the emergency room.
If you notice the following signs or symptoms, an urgent medical
evaluation is indicated:
Fever in an infant less than 3 months of age
Looks extremely ill or lethargic
Cannot drink or has no urination in 8 hours
Is not showing any signs of improvement after
3-4 days of feverThis list is by no means
exhaustive. If you have any questions or
concerns, you should call your pediatrician’s office. In addition, if your child appears to
demonstrate any other unusual symptoms such as ear pain, facial pain, strange
rash, etc., you should contact your pediatrician.
When is it OK to send the kids back to school?
Of course, one of the most
important questions that we get in the Pediatric Emergency Center is “When can
my child go back to school?” As
opposed to the common cold (during which children frequently attend school),
children with influenza must be kept out of school or day care to improve their
healing and prevent spread of the infection to classmates. A child or adult should be fever-free
(without any use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen) for at least 24 hours prior to
returning to school or work.
And when in doubt about the flu,
consulting with your pediatrician is always recommended. More information regarding this can be found
David Reitman, M.D.
Suburban Hospital Pediatric Emergency Center
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